UConn Health Beat: Radiation-free heart mapping used to treat pregnant mother at UConn Health

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Earlier in the month, Semeda Amegashie, a pregnant mother with a rare heart condition, underwent an innovative, minimally invasive surgery at the University of Connecticut Pam and Jim Calhoun Cardiology Center in Farmington, Connecticut, according to UConn Today. 

Amegashie — who is expecting her second child in May next year — was born with Wolff Parkinson White Syndrome (WPW), which affects less than half a percent of people worldwide, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

People with WPW have too many electrical pathways in their hearts, which can cause irregular heartbeats and throw the heart off its rhythm. According to the National Organization for Rare Disorders, WPW is found mostly in otherwise healthy adults between 30 and 40 years old, and can lead to cardiac arrest or sudden death. 

Amegashie, 33, told UConn Today she only attributed her occasional heart palpitations since the birth of her three-year-old daughter to stress — until recently when they became more extreme. 

“I had my scariest heart episode ever,” Amegashie said. “My pounding heart woke me up from a sound sleep just after midnight and it lasted until the morning. The movement in my chest was as if my heart was trying to get out of me. It was very scary.” 

Amegashie contacted her primary care physician at UConn Health, who connected her with Dr. Christopher Pickett, the co-director of the Heart Rhythm Program at the cardiology center in Farmington. Due to Amegashie’s pregnancy, Dr. Pickett was not able to treat her condition using standard X-ray fluoroscopy procedures that involve radiation and can be harmful to a fetus. 

Traditionally, doctors use X-ray fluoroscopy to map out a patient’s chest — however, thanks to new technologies at the UConn Health Electrophysiology Lab, Dr. Pickett was able to navigate Amegashie’s heart without exposing her to radiation, and permanently deactivated the extraneous, hyperactive electrical pathways. 

“It would have been enormously difficult to safely treat Semeda’s condition while pregnant,” Dr. Pickett said, without the innovative radiation-free heart mapping technologies. 

Since the 1980s, medical procedures have become the most common source of radiation exposure to U.S. citizens — showing a 600% increase around the turn of the century, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information. In the last two decades, as new medical technologies have developed, doctors have been able to use catheters inserted through the veins in order to provide 3-D imaging and work on a patient’s heart, without exposing them to radiation. 

Research done by the National Health Institute highlighted the growing popularity of alternatives to X-ray fluoroscopy in the treatment of pregnant women with heart conditions, as well as the viability of these non-radioactive 3-D imaging methods to allow medical professionals who are early in their pregnancy to continue to treat patients. 

Two weeks after the procedure, Amegashie told UConn Today that she is very pleased and experiencing relief. 

“Now I no longer have to worry or be scared of my fast heart-racing episodes. Now my only focus is pacing myself, and preparing to become a mom-to-be of two,” Amegashie said. 

Amegashie hopes that her success story can provide happiness this holiday season and shed “a little light to others during the darkness of this pandemic.” 

“Now I no longer have to worry or be scared of my fast heart-racing episodes. Now my only focus is pacing myself, and preparing to become a mom-to-be of two.”

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